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How to get up a doctor's nose

Dig for dinosaurs, perform keyhole surgery: now that's what Douglas Blane calls makingscience fun.

When the hospital doctor with the foot-long endoscope up his nose first entered medical school, he probably never imagined himself sitting in a lab one day being filmed by a crew of schoolchildren asking him how much snot the average person produces in a day and why doctors can't cure the common cold.

The doctor's nose is just one of the attractions at Sensation in Dundee, the science centre which first opened its doors last July.

It is one of the few places where people as young as five or as old as 85 can come into contact with science and scientists at the cutting edge of research.

A good science centre is not only about exotic displays that entertain and educate, it is also a complex and mostly hidden network of connections which reach out to scientists, doctors, teachers, universities and research labs.

"We had teachers in even before the building went up," says education manager Alice Hague, "teachers, scientists and exhibit developers, all saying what they wanted from a science centre. Then we had to pull their ideas together."

The result is a tightly-focused but ingeniously varied experience that takes the children on a journey around the senses and uses all their faculties.

Dog's World is a dimly lit space where colours are muted, but scents are vibrant. "Surely it shouldn't smell this nice?" someone asks. "The things dogs stick their noses into smell dreadful." "Not if you're a dog," says Ms Hague.

Fish World, with its twinkling stars in a refraction-squeezed sky, as well as the underside of a couple of ducks, is equally strange and entrancing.

A dinosaur dig at one end of the building is proving a star attraction. The extraordinary patience needed to extract fossils from the ground might be thought beyond young children, but not a bit of it.

"There were big dinosaur bones, smaller fossils and a chart to identify them," says Carolyn Lothian, of St Joseph's primary school, Dundee, who has brought her Primary 4 class on a full day's visit. "One or two of them were hacking at it by the end because they were getting impatient. But the majority were very good and some of the children surprised me."

Esewhere, a genuine laparoscope, as used for keyhole surgery, gives the children a feel for the problems of precision excision, when the surgeon is outside the body, but his instruments inside.

There's a friendly hi-tech recognition system called BUD, which photographs your eyes, then uses the stored pattern of the iris to greet you by name and pass out real pound;100 notes. Well actually, they're fake, but before long all cashpoints and security systems may work this way.

Areas devoted to each of the senses allow the children to play with sophisticated but user-friendly exhibits. They can see what their faces might look like in 40 years' time. They can crawl inside a leaf or a piece of human skin magnified 1,000 times. They can climb up a nose. They can sit inside an eyeball and watch the world go by.

"It was good fun in the eyeball," says Primary 4 pupil Sophie. "And you could see a cactus plant upside down, so you learned that your brain turns pictures round."

The centre has a seminar room with a lab and a computer suite with internet connections, which the Saturday Science Club is using to get satellite weather data to let them do some forecasting.

Young Greg liked the eyeball and the shop but the dinosaur dig was his favourite: "It took a long time because you only had a brush and a scraper. You couldn't use a big spade, but it was fun."

Hannah liked the eyeball: "There was a wee wheel inside and you turned the wheel and the eyeball spun round." The Dino Dig, however, was tops with her too.

The most spectacular exhibit is a huge gyroscope, normally used to prepare astronauts for the weightlessness of space, which holds a volunteer tightly while she twists and turns in all directions.

To their regret, the Primary 4 kids are not tall enough to use it, but teacher is.

"It was funny when Miss Lothian was on the gyroscope," says Nicholas. "She was going upside down and we were all shouting 'Faster! Faster!'."

Sensation Greenmarket, Dundee DD1 4QB. Open: 10am-6pm, seven days a week. School visits should be booked in advance, cost pound;2.75 per pupil and can include a presentation or workshop on a curriculum-related activity. Education manager: Alice Hague Tel: 01382 228800Email: alice.hague@sensation.org.uk

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